Hummingbird Cake

Hummingbird cake reigns supreme over the dessert table at Southern get-togethers, but to locate this recipe’s origins, you actually have to go a bit farther south — to Jamaica. In the late ’70s, the Jamaican Tourist Board attempted to entice more American vacationers to the island by releasing press kits highlighting classic Jamaican recipes. One of them was a delicious “hummingbird cake”, named in honor of Jamaica’s national bird, the swallow-tailed hummingbird. (Or, as it’s known on the island, the doctor bird — which is why you’ll also find recipes calling this a doctor bird cake.) Southern Living Magazine printed the recipe in 1978, and in the last 40 years it’s become their most requested recipe of all time.

But why is it really called a hummingbird cake? The story behind the name is about as nuanced as the cake’s fruity, spiced, and tropical flavor. Maybe it’s because the cake is as sweet as the nectar that hummingbirds drink. Maybe it’s because anyone who takes a bite will positively hum with joy. Maybe it’s because people make a beeline to this pineapple banana cake as quickly as hummingbirds flock to the feeder. Whatever the real story is, hummingbird cake has become a staple of Southern celebrations.

The idea of baking a layer cake from scratch might make even a true Southern belle feel faint, but our easy hummingbird cake recipe is pretty hard to mess up. Don’t cut corners and use boxed cake mix for this one, because packaged cake mix tends to be super light and fluffy, which means that all of that delicious tropical fruit you add to the cake batter will just sink to the bottom. You could always make this recipe even easier and just bake it as a sheet cake with frosting on top. (We haven’t tried it this way, but the volume of batter for three 8-inch cake pans generally converts to one 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Let us know if you try it!)

Hummingbird Cake


    • 3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
    • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1¼ teaspoons kosher salt
    • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 3 eggs, beaten
    • 1½ cups sugar
    • 1⅓ cups vegetable oil
    • ¼ cup buttermilk
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 2 cups very ripe banana, mashed (about 4 medium bananas or 16 ounces)
    • 1 (8 oz) can crushed pineapple (or fresh chopped pineapple)
    • 2 cups toasted chopped pecans, divided
    • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
    • 2 (8 oz) packages of cream cheese, softened
    • ¼ teaspoons kosher salt
    • 6 cups powdered sugar
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    Takes , serves 12.


    1. Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C.
    2. Grease and flour three 8-inch cake pans.
    3. In a large bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, and baking soda.
    4. Add the eggs, sugar, vegetable oil, buttermilk, and vanilla extract, and stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened
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